In September 2022, Nicola Sturgeon announced a six-month rent freeze and an eviction ban, as part of emergency legislation brought in to deal with the cost of living crisis. For many Scottish housing campaigners – and indeed everyday tenants – the news was welcomed with enthusiasm.
The small print, though, of the Cost of Living (Protection of Tenants) (Scotland) Act 2022 contained important caveats. For one, the freeze would only apply to existing tenancies across Scotland – there was no cap on what could be charged for a flat put on the market. Social tenants with arrears of more than £2,250 could still be evicted. And a temporary freeze was assuredly not the same thing as long-term rent controls.
It was reported last year that average rents had increased above inflation in seven Scottish areas before the freeze came in. It’s fair to question the effectiveness of a freeze that simply locks in what are, for many, already unaffordable rents. This is in a country where about 37% of households live in rented accommodation.
Demand is at 2.5 times the UK average. To live in Glasgow when the average rent of a one-bedroom flat has jumped 48.3% between 2010 and 2022.
At the start of the month, new figures showed that rents in Dundee had soared 33% in a year, putting the city having the second steepest increase in the UK, with the average monthly cost of a room in Dundee now £587.
Matt Downie, the chief executive of the homelessness charity Crisis UK. Though it welcomed the Scottish government’s decision to take action to protect tenant explained, “the rent freeze contained in the emergency legislation represents a sticking plaster on a much bigger problem”.
In late January, the Scottish housing minister and Green party co-leader Patrick Harvie announced that the legislation would be extended for at least a further six months, from April to the end of September. Only now, the private-sector freeze would be scrapped and replaced with a 3% cap (the freeze on social rents will also end in April, with the voluntary agreement that landlords keep any increases to below inflationary levels of 11.1%). Despite this fairly bold U-turn, broadly interpreted as a concession to the landlord lobby, there is still an extreme unhappiness among landlords.
In 2019, the Scottish house conditions survey showed that 52% of privately rented homes in Scotland were found to be in a state of disrepair.